Unfortunately, the boating season is winding down in many parts of the country and it is time to start thinking about protecting your valuable recreational asset. Winterizing a boat reminds me of the old commercial that says “pay me now or pay me later.” The time and effort you spend now will have a definite effect on your boat’s performance, or lack of it, and certainly save you time, effort and money come spring. You should remember that your insurance policy may not cover damage done by lack of maintenance or neglect.
The best place for your boat to be during the winter is out of the water, under cover, in a climate-controlled boat storage area. This, however, can be expensive. If you don’t have this option perhaps you should consider shrink-wrapping your boat. This, too, is a little expensive but provides a very protective cover. Short of these two items, make sure that your boat is well covered with a tarp or some other sturdy cover.
Your first step in winterizing should be to make a checklist of all items that need to be accomplished. Check the owner’s manual of your boat and motor(s) for manufacturer’s recommendations on winterization. If you are a new boat owner, perhaps you should employ the assistance of a friend with experience in winterizing or hire a professional to do the job. The following is a generic outline of areas which should be of concern to you, however, there are many resources on the Internet with more detailed and specific information.
Inboard Engine(s) – You should run the engine(s) to warm it up and change the oil while it is warm. This tends to allow impurities to be drained away with the oil. You should also change the oil filter(s). Flush the engine(s) with fresh water. You should circulate antifreeze through the manifold by using a pickup hose from the waterpump to a bucket of antifreeze. Start the engine and allow the antifreeze to circulate until water starts to exit the exhaust. This process will vary slightly depending on whether you have a “Raw Water” cooling system or an “Enclosed Fresh Water” cooling system. While you’re in the engine room you should also change the fluid in your transmission. Remove spark plugs and use “fogging oil” to spray into each cylinder. Wipe down the engine with a shop towel sprayed with a little fogging oil or WD-40.
Stern Drive(s) – You should thoroughly inspect the stern drive and remove any plant life or barnacles from the lower unit. Drain the gear case and check for excessive moisture in the oil. This could indicate leaking seals and should be repaired. Clean the lower unit with soap and water. If your stern drive has a rubber boot, check it for cracks or pinholes. Grease all fittings and check fluid levels in hydraulic steering or lift pumps. Check with your owner’s manual for additional recommendations by the manufacturer.
Outboard Engine(s) – Flush engine with fresh water using flush muffs or similar device attached to the raw water pickup. Let all water drain from the engine. Wash engine down with soap and water and rinse thoroughly.
Fuel – Fill your fuel tank(s) to avoid a build up of condensation over the winter months. Add a fuel stabilizer (such as one found here) by following the instructions on the product. Change the fuel filter(s) and water separator(s).
Thanks to Jerry Turley, a member of the USCG Auxiliary, for pointing out that there are two theories on whether you should disconnect the fuel hose and run the engine until it stops or treat the fuel. Nissan recommends draining fuel for lay-up. Their purpose is to make sure that all fuel is drained from the carburetor to prevent build-up of deposits from evaporated fuel. Other manufacturers such as Mercury, OMC, Force and all recommend treating the fuel with a fuel conditioner and stabilizer, have a full tank, and running treated fuel into the engine prior to the balance of the winterizing process. The presence of treated fuel prevents the interaction with air. Also, the small amount of fuel left after draining does not have a chance to evaporate and form the “varnish” type residue. Fuel conditioners are available at marine dealers, marine stores and auto parts stores.
You should consult your owner’s manual for the manufacturers recommendations on how to handle fuel in your winterization process.
Use fogging oil in the cylinders to lubricate the cylinder walls and pistons. Apply water resistant grease to propeller shaft and threads. Change the gear oil in the lower unit. Lightly lubricate the exterior of the engine or polish with a good wax.